"Using Ludwig van like that!"
May 23, 2018 11:07 PM   Subscribe

Bach at the Burger King, Theodore Gioia
Take your delinquency elsewhere could be the subtext under every tune in the classical crime-fighting movement. It is crucial to remember that the tactic does not aim to stop or even necessarily reduce crime — but to relocate it. Moreover, such mercenary measures most often target minor infractions like vandalism and loitering — crimes that damage property, not people, and usually the property of the powerful. “[B]usiness and government leaders,” Lily Hirsch observes in Music in American Crime Prevention and Punishment, “are seizing on classical music not as a positive moralizing force, but as a marker of space.” In a strange mutation, classical music devolves from a “universal language of mankind” reminding all people of their common humanity into a sonic border fence protecting privileged areas from common crowds, telling the plebes in auditory code that “you’re not welcome here.”

Classy!

Weaponizing Mozart [previously]
In January [2010] it was revealed that West Park School, in Derby in the midlands of England, was “subjecting” (its words) badly behaved children to Mozart and others. In “special detentions,” the children are forced to endure two hours of classical music both as a relaxant (the headmaster claims it calms them down) and as a deterrent against future bad behavior (apparently the number of disruptive pupils has fallen by 60 per cent since the detentions were introduced.)
Blasting Mozart to drive criminals away
Some months ago, I was sitting at the Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York with enough time on my hands that I actually noticed the music coming over the speakers in the ceiling. It was the scherzo from Schubert’s first piano trio. Schubert’s piano trios are among my favorite pieces in the universe, but as I listened, I found that I wasn’t relaxing; quite the contrary. The music sounded awful: tinny, hard-edged, aggressive. I wanted to get away.

I’ve long heard that the Port Authority is one of many public spaces across the country that uses classical music to help control vagrancy: to drive the homeless away. Listening to that Schubert rendition, I started to believe it.
Vivaldi On Duty
“The people was loitering around,” said manager Saniraza Saddiq by phone from Dallas. “That's why we were playing [classical] music, so they don't [stay] that long because it's kind of annoying to be around [the music] so much.”

Saddiq’s store is part of a franchise, and he said playing classical music was actually a suggestion from the company he worked for. So far, he said it has been effective. The classical music is intended to be loud enough that casual conversation outside the store becomes difficult, and Saddiq said he sees loiterers leaving to get out of range of the Bach, Vivaldi or whatever else is playing.

The volume is a key component of the strategy, but so is the playlist.
Unbearable!

When Music Is Violence

Weaponizing Classical Music: Crime Prevention and Symbolic Power in the Age of Repetition [PDF], Lily E. Hirsch, Journal of Popular Music Studies, Volume 19, Issue 4, Pages 342–358
It is my assertion that sound is able to reinforce territory as a symbolic language by signaling to those who belong and rejecting those who do not, thanks to an encoded system of associations. In our example, classical music, within a socially agreed-upon hierarchy of cultural practices, is connected to the “uncool”—as journalist Melissa Jackson explains, “It’s pretty uncool to be seen hanging around somewhere when Mozart is playing” (Jackson 2005). Put another way, it is not that classical music itself is unpleasant; it is the accompanying baggage as Rob Kapilow, composer and conductor, recognizes: “They listen to this sound, and what comes with it is this whole association of its packaging, which is unpleasant: ‘We don’t want to be part of that elitist, white-tails, concert-going kind of world’” (qtd. in Timberg 2005: 3). The authorities are, likewise, choosing to employ classical music not because of the actual sound of the music, but because of its symbolic capital: “Of all the packages that come to mind quickly, which one is furthest from our images of those thugs? ... ‘Be quiet, be well-dressed, be polite.’ They’re choosing the whole world of classical music and not the music itself” (qtd. in Timberg 2005: 3).
see also: Music in American Crime Prevention and Punishment

The Awfulness Of Classical Music, Explained
posted by the man of twists and turns (51 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
 
As we learned last time, Theodore is the nephew of the jazz critic Ted Gioia.
Protip: to avoid confusion, do not name your son after your brother
posted by thelonius at 11:38 PM on May 23, 2018 [3 favorites]


Me, as I'm reading the FPP: wait, I know a Burger King that blasts Bach outside
Me, after clicking on the first link and reading the first sentence: yep, that's the one

I can confirm the music does does reduce the number of people who hang out on that corner. They've closed up the public transit escalators that were there too, leaving a weird vacant area (though in the Street View image, you'll see the Jehovah's Witnesses are seemingly ok with Baroque music).

What the music doesn't do is help the large number of people who need food and shelter and drug treatment in the area. It, at most, relocates these people a few feet underground, to a part of the subway station well-known for IV drug use that officials are currently seeking to close, because just giving up on public spaces entirely involves much less work than actually addressing the needs of the people who live in the community.
posted by zachlipton at 11:59 PM on May 23, 2018 [17 favorites]


Clockwork Orange much?
posted by Faintdreams at 12:12 AM on May 24, 2018 [4 favorites]


Yeah, making classical music punitive for crowd control is awful. But that HuffPost article is kind of crap. Expecting an audience to listen attentively to complex music without talking or calling out isn't a "musical North Korea." Seriously.
posted by daisystomper at 12:14 AM on May 24, 2018 [8 favorites]


When I hear about the various and numerous forms of hostile architecture targeted at the homeless, I find it repugnant.

When I hear a mainstream establishment is playing classical music to irritate a demographic of visitors and discourage loitering, or a school that plays Mozart to students in detention, I feel a big old meh. If a building put up ugly paintings to drive homeless people away, I'd feel just as meh.

Unpleasant, even intentionally unpleasant aesthetic choices should not be lumped into the same category as benches with bars down the middle or walls with drip-feeds of water to make the sidewalks impossible to sleep on.
posted by tclark at 12:34 AM on May 24, 2018 [11 favorites]


The playlist has been selected to repel sidewalk listeners — specifically, the mid-Market homeless

The phrase "Mid-market homeless" gave me pause to wonder if perhaps they hoped to attract the upmarket homeless instead, all in designer rags, animatedly discussing the merits of the repertoire and the extent to which it uses historically-informed performance practice. Seriously, though, I find all this depressing both as a fan of classical music and as one among the many who are only a few disasters away from the risk of homelessness themselves.

As a Cleveland official explained, “There’s something about Baroque music that macho wannabe-gangster types hate.”

On screen, Baroque is the background music for Old Money, High Society, and condescension.

Which is an interesting, as gangster culture is so often portrayed (not that I know anything about the reality of it) as intensely aspirational, avidly seeking to assume markers of wealth and status: I guess this just isn't one of them?
posted by misteraitch at 1:55 AM on May 24, 2018 [7 favorites]


How the American Social Safety Net works:
Step 1: Push away everybody who might be a problem.
Step 2: Ensure that nobody else's implementation of the ASSN pushes people towards you.
posted by at by at 2:34 AM on May 24, 2018 [6 favorites]


"I stopped loitering and learned the mazurka!"
posted by The Underpants Monster at 2:57 AM on May 24, 2018 [9 favorites]


But that HuffPost article is kind of crap.

Aren't they all? If your business wants to stop me hanging around outside, you could do worse than having someone reading HuffPo articles on a loudspeaker. If it was one of those narrators with the annoying misplaced emphases in their delivery, it would work even better.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:29 AM on May 24, 2018 [8 favorites]


What the music doesn't do is help the large number of people who need food and shelter and drug treatment in the area.

This is true, but fast food employees are spectacularly ill-equipped to provide for those needs. Thanks to the general abdication of our local, state, and federal governments, $8/h food service jobs now often include, as part of their required duties, a fair bit of homelessness/drug overdose/mental health crisis first-response. But these jobs provide no additional training, resources, or compensation for this work, and -- I say this as someone who has done it as part of an $8/h food service job -- it can be scary and difficult and, at times, dangerous for everyone involved. Using music as an area-denial tactic is awful, but I can also appreciate that some businesses using the tactic don't know what else to try and don't have other strategies they can seek out. It's better than calling the cops, at least.
posted by halation at 3:40 AM on May 24, 2018 [20 favorites]


Horrorshow...
posted by SansPoint at 5:04 AM on May 24, 2018 [1 favorite]


I really liked this line from the LARB article:
Thus music returns to its oldest evolutionary function: claiming territory.
Yes, this is me getting furious when a neighbor's stereo blares through the walls into my apartment. It's harming me in no way, but the territorial intrusion stresses me the hell out.

And it's the person driving down the street with their car stereo blasting, carving out a bubble of ownership around their car.

And it's the person on public transit with ear buds, having sacrificed their personal space almost entirely, putting up a tiny acoustic barrier around themselves.
posted by paper chromatographologist at 5:12 AM on May 24, 2018 [13 favorites]


And it's the person driving down the street with their car stereo blasting, carving out a bubble of ownership around their car.

And now the alpha-male cyclists with those water-bottle-shaped Bluetooth speakers, taking a testosterone-rich territorial piss on the eardrums of everybody within a 20 metre radius with their usually execrable taste in pop-EDM or whatever.

I swear, that 1950s wolf study that gave the world the term “alpha male”, and consequently the normalisation of the social dominance orientation, has probably done more harm than everything Ayn Rand ever wrote put together.
posted by acb at 5:43 AM on May 24, 2018 [22 favorites]


Yes, this is me getting furious when a neighbor's stereo blares through the walls into my apartment. It's harming me in no way, but the territorial intrusion stresses me the hell out.

And it's the person driving down the street with their car stereo blasting, carving out a bubble of ownership around their car.

And it's the person on public transit with ear buds, having sacrificed their personal space almost entirely, putting up a tiny acoustic barrier around themselves.


One of these things is not like the others.
posted by Mogur at 6:04 AM on May 24, 2018 [13 favorites]


And now the alpha-male cyclists with those water-bottle-shaped Bluetooth speakers, taking a testosterone-rich territorial piss on the eardrums of everybody within a 20 metre radius with their usually execrable taste in pop-EDM or whatever.

In amazing twist, my brother actually does this with baroque music and opera when cycling. I apologize.

Which is an interesting, as gangster culture is so often portrayed (not that I know anything about the reality of it) as intensely aspirational, avidly seeking to assume markers of wealth and status: I guess this just isn't one of them?

I mean, it is, but classical music is also a very white high class status marker. It's one that's made inaccessible through cultural norms of how one is supposed to behave while listening to it, something that generally people believe that you need to be trained to really 'get' anything out of it, and is exclusionary in more ways than just 'costs a lot of money to see live'. It's associated with the sort of people who will call the cops.
posted by dinty_moore at 6:07 AM on May 24, 2018 [7 favorites]


On a more positive note, a local adult store had problems with teen skateboarders blocking their entrance. Confrontation having not worked, the manager resorted to another teen imperative - curiousity. She offered to answer any question they might have, if they would move somewhere else. They took her up on her offer, and asked if they could come back the next day and ask another one. To date the arrangement has worked out well for both parties.
posted by Mogur at 6:08 AM on May 24, 2018 [24 favorites]


Oh hello thing that the downtown Seattle McDinalds used to do.

They tried Country too.

I don’t think they do it anymore and that corner has remained consistently awful and a crime hotspot having ignored their efforts entirely.
posted by Artw at 6:10 AM on May 24, 2018 [1 favorite]


I mean, it is, but classical music is also a very white high class status marker. It's one that's made inaccessible through cultural norms of how one is supposed to behave while listening to it, something that generally people believe that you need to be trained to really 'get' anything out of it, and is exclusionary in more ways than just 'costs a lot of money to see live'.

Jazz is going that way as well, as a marker of genteel, educated respectability. If classical music as an art form in itself is killed by it becoming a signifier of caricatures of established power hierarchies, jazz is likely to take its place as the classical music a successful bourgeois can listen to without feeling like they're putting on a faintly ridiculous costume. Then, perhaps in 50-100 years, this will be repeated for something else; perhaps rock'n'roll as represented by a few exemplars that happen to have stood the test of time, though nobody today would have picked them as doing so (say, Gene Vincent, Dire Straits and Elbow or someone).
posted by acb at 6:17 AM on May 24, 2018 [4 favorites]


Me, as I'm reading the FPP: wait, I know a Burger King that blasts Bach outside

This is fascinating mostly because it is yours and comments like it that helped me realize the first article was not a speculative fiction parody of existing anti-homelessness devices.
posted by corb at 6:31 AM on May 24, 2018 [1 favorite]


I’m not sure it’s the “inaccessibility” that is driving people away. If they replaced Bach with polka they’d probably get a similar result. Cultural claim-staking.
posted by q*ben at 6:33 AM on May 24, 2018 [1 favorite]


Me, as I'm reading the FPP: wait, I know a Burger King that blasts Bach outside
Me, after clicking on the first link and reading the first sentence: yep, that's the one

Same here. San Fracisco's recent trend toward demonization of the poor has is just revolting. It seems like the homeless have been largely driven from the Mission and SOMA, and there's been a push now to shove them out of the Tenderloin even.
posted by Trinity-Gehenna at 6:49 AM on May 24, 2018


Perhaps a new wrinkle for the Mozart Effect...
posted by jim in austin at 6:57 AM on May 24, 2018


I am now going to make an observation which may reveal that I have not yet read all the links above, but it is a point maybe someone can steer me to. I have been reading and experiencing classical music as an area denial tactic for some thirty years now and there is one aspect of the process I have not seen addressed: when you hear, say, Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody #2 outside a 7-11, the recording will have been made by someone who spent years at The Peabody Conservatory and Juilliard perfecting their craft. How do the performers feel about the results of their careers being used to drive people away?
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:01 AM on May 24, 2018 [8 favorites]


How do the performers feel about the results of their careers being used to drive people away?

Shitty.

-a performer
posted by fast ein Maedchen at 7:06 AM on May 24, 2018 [21 favorites]


Why stop at classical music? Why not an hours-long playlist of Fran Drescher's laugh? (Or does that violate the Geneva Convention?)
posted by xedrik at 7:18 AM on May 24, 2018 [9 favorites]


How does this Burger King make it work under SF's noise ordinance?

Section 2909(b), Commercial and Industrial Property Noise Limits
This section applies to noise generated from a source located on a commercial or industrial property or within or serving a commercial use in a mixed use property. The standard in Section 2909(b), eight dBA above the ambient at any point outside of the property plane, is the maximum allowable cumulative level of exterior noise, produced from any combination of mechanical device(s) and implied sound systems(s) originating from an exclusively commercial or industrial property or from or serving a commercial use located within a mixed use property.


8 dBA isn't that much, is that all it takes to drive people away? Although I guess it's relative to the background noise.
posted by snuffleupagus at 7:19 AM on May 24, 2018 [1 favorite]


My local McDonalds was blasting Coldplay in the bathroom once - but I think someone who controlled the music just really liked Coldplay.
posted by The_Vegetables at 8:02 AM on May 24, 2018


Then, perhaps in 50-100 years, this will be repeated for something else; perhaps rock'n'roll

No, they'll use rap music for this. Once poor black people stop doing it for sufficiently long enough it becomes property of the same class of rich white people who used to despise it. They just love dead things. But rock'n'roll will never die.
posted by windykites at 8:05 AM on May 24, 2018 [1 favorite]


Me, as I'm reading the FPP: wait, I know a Burger King that blasts Bach outside
Me, after clicking on the first link and reading the first sentence: yep, that's the one


I had that same exact thought process!
posted by chatongriffes at 8:11 AM on May 24, 2018


But rock'n'roll will never die.

Takin' care of business!
posted by thelonius at 8:17 AM on May 24, 2018




To ward off black youth congregating out of the rain in their doorway, the McDonald's on 3rd and Pine first used Country 'n Western -- only to find it was a magnet for wizened white street alcoholics of a certain age. They then settled on opera arias.
posted by y2karl at 9:00 AM on May 24, 2018 [3 favorites]


But rock'n'roll will never die.
That is not dead which can eternal lie. And with strange aeons even death may die.

The Necronomicon
H.P. Lovecraft aside, I have to add, paraphrasing Dr. Leonard McCoy of Star Trek:
It's dead, Jim -- has been dead for years now. Get over it.
posted by y2karl at 9:14 AM on May 24, 2018 [1 favorite]


Where I live, the McDonalds took advantage of a renovation to remove the outdoor tables where, coincidentally, retired African American men used to congregate daily. Retired is not a euphemism - they were older guys, perfectly normal citizens, not people who were drunk in public or anything like that.
posted by thelonius at 9:59 AM on May 24, 2018 [6 favorites]


halation: This is true, but fast food employees are spectacularly ill-equipped to provide for those needs. Thanks to the general abdication of our local, state, and federal governments, $8/h food service jobs now often include, as part of their required duties, a fair bit of homelessness/drug overdose/mental health crisis first-response. But these jobs provide no additional training, resources, or compensation for this work, and -- I say this as someone who has done it as part of an $8/h food service job -- it can be scary and difficult and, at times, dangerous for everyone involved.

I'm reminded of the post which discussed how librarians are doing their best to fill in the gap that inadequate social services leaves. Of course, librarians have degrees in library science, not social work - and fast-food workers usually have a high-school or at most some college education, and get no training in crisis response. Blasting classical (or whatever genre) music kicks the can down the road, but neither the fast-food workers or any retail workers are equipped to handle health crises.

This is one reason why a "social capital WPA" appeals to me so much. If we could educate, train, and implement an army of helping-profession employees, we could get the homeless out of the doorways and (hopefully) into some kind of housing (or hospitals or outpatient centers), and bored, antsy kids can attend recreational programs (like what well-funded Parks and Rec systems offer).
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 10:09 AM on May 24, 2018 [9 favorites]


The phrase "Mid-market homeless" gave me pause to wonder if perhaps they hoped to attract the upmarket homeless instead

Just to clarify, the neighborhood is known (by some) as mid-Market. The street is called Market St. Thinking of it as a degree of type of homeless person is fascinating though, and that's going to be stuck in my head for a while.
posted by zachlipton at 10:37 AM on May 24, 2018 [4 favorites]


My local McDonalds was blasting Coldplay in the bathroom once - but I think someone who controlled the music just really liked Coldplay.

I went to the Dogfish Head brewpub in Rehoboth Beach quite a few years ago (I think it's since closed) and noticed that about every third song that came on was by REM. I asked the bartender about it and, evidently, it was Sam Calagione's personal iPod plugged into the stereo, and he really liked REM.
posted by uncleozzy at 11:04 AM on May 24, 2018 [2 favorites]


Aw, The Underpants Monster, q*ben, one of my daydreams for the year is to organize a flash mazurka dance with live music. And you know, dancers, probably an accordionist, Seattle, polka happens. We aren't even a threat, we're a punchline!
posted by clew at 11:18 AM on May 24, 2018 [3 favorites]


But rock'n'roll will never die.

Think whatever you want, but I fully expect "When the Levee Breaks" to be driving the mutant hordes away from a fortified Arby's in 2051.
posted by ryanshepard at 12:32 PM on May 24, 2018 [6 favorites]


"as its purpose slips from aesthetic or spiritual ennoblement into economic relocation." = hostile musical architecture. We've seen the weaponization of music before...

Also, was I the only one to catch a reference to McMurtry's Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen?
posted by MonkeyToes at 12:58 PM on May 24, 2018 [1 favorite]


I happened to pass by on the way back from lunch, and well, now they've gone and parked a police car on the sidewalk in front of the Burger King, just to hammer the point home a little more. Jehovah's Witnesses still good though.

One interesting aspect of this is that the music is really crappy. Here's a picture of one of the speakers, up above the door. That's the kind of speaker you use to tell people there's a fire, order inmates to lie on the ground, or maybe page a salesperson at a used car lot. It's not the kind of speaker you use if you want classical music to sound at all listenable. In some ways, it's not just about an auditory code that tells people they're unwelcome through class signifies; it's just an auditory code that tells people they're unwelcome by sounding awful and hoping that people move somewhere else.

The distinction between making the place sound like Nordstrom and just making it sound bad is fairly minimal, but the execution of this system, just like at the Port Authority, is to pipe in unpleasant noise, not a gentrified air of sophistication.
posted by zachlipton at 1:57 PM on May 24, 2018 [6 favorites]


Think whatever you want, but I fully expect "When the Levee Breaks" to be driving the mutant hordes away from a fortified Arby's in 2051.

Please, you could play either Memphis Minnie's or Led Zep's version outside of the McDonald's in my neighborhood now, and it would do the trick.

There is a 7/11 on 34th Street near 8th Avenue in NYC that plays tinny-sounding classical music outside its doors, which, yes, are completely clear of any sentient beings.
posted by droplet at 2:35 PM on May 24, 2018


tl/dr: shamefully electrified corpse
posted by y2karl at 3:29 PM on May 24, 2018


I don't like any hostile design, or design for exclusion.

But I do love Bach (so repetitive, so calming). I just wish more marginalized people were Baroque fans.
posted by jb at 3:52 PM on May 24, 2018


I also wonder: do you really need education to appreciate (the best) western art music? I figure it's lasted because it's good - the boring stuff has fallen by the wayside after 300 years. I fell in love with Bach as a kid watching Fantasia because the Tocatta & Fugue in D minor is just so delightfully rolling. I love that aria from Lakme thanks to the British Airways ads (me and everyone else on the planet). My parents rarely played music at home, and when they did it was folk or rock or Sesame Street - wait, that was me.

I realize that my listening now, after years of practice and knowing musicians and stuff, may be more sophisticated. But I liked it before I 'got' it - and even now, my musical understanding is poor.
posted by jb at 4:03 PM on May 24, 2018 [5 favorites]


I also wonder: do you really need education to appreciate (the best) western art music?

Not really. I fell into opera fandom over the last two or three years, still don't know much about it and don't bother to listen to any in between performances. I'm mostly there for the spectacle and the feelings.

It is not nearly as inaccessible as I thought it would be. They have subtitles! Or supertitles. Sometimes even in more than one language that you can select, so Spanish-speakers can enjoy an Italian opera.

Which doesn't have much to do with opera used offensively, but it's a shame more people don't know how high-falutin' opera isn't.
posted by asperity at 8:14 PM on May 24, 2018 [5 favorites]


If it was one of those narrators with the annoying misplaced emphases in their delivery, it would work even better.

Fear the Walken.
posted by y2karl at 3:43 AM on May 25, 2018


So by successfully taking art out of the public schools, we've raised a generation where art becomes anathema and now drives them away?

Mr. Holland's Opus, white dude gets kids to appreciate the classics. Real life, white dudes use the classics to pissmark all of America to ensure kids gtfo the lawn.

sigh
posted by caution live frogs at 7:04 AM on May 25, 2018 [4 favorites]


Fear the Walken.

That's not what I meant by 'misplaced emphasis.' I'm thinking of that extremely arch tone used by some news readers and commercial voices, and epitomized by the narrator of the crime show Snapped. That narration is the reason I never watch that show; 30 seconds of it drives me to something else.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 8:47 AM on May 25, 2018


Any style of music can be weaponized...it's just a matter of taste, context, and volume...
posted by littlejohnnyjewel at 9:20 PM on May 25, 2018


...Real life, white dudes use the classics to pissmark all of America to ensure kids gtfo the lawn.

Not this one, who cares not to be painted with so broad a brush.

And I wish people would stop referring to the Ancient Greeks and Romans as old dead white men because it would make no sense to them as the concept of whiteness uber alles is a social construction of a very few centuries' recent vintage. There is stupid and then there is brain dead stupid and that appellation is of the latter category.

Any style of music can be weaponized...it's just a matter of taste, context, and volume...

This is the truth. Everyone has used music as a weapon in their lives, first and foremost, against their family, neighbors, abhorrent strangers and whoever else they perceive as their oppressors. It didn't become a mercantile option out of thin air.
posted by y2karl at 10:42 AM on May 26, 2018


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